Intel launches budget-minded 540s Series SSDs, pricing starts under $55

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Intel’s budget-minded 540 Series solid state drives are now available to purchase. The drives, based on 16-nanometer TLC NAND flash memory from SK Hynix, are available in two form factors and half a dozen capacities.

The new Intel 540s Series drives are offered in capacities of 120GB, 180GB, 240GB, 360GB, 480GB and 1TB in your choice of 80mm M.2 or 2.5-inch form factors. It’s worth noting that all M.2 drives are single-sided with the exception of the 1TB model.

Intel says its new entry-level drives offer sequential read speeds of up to 560MB/sec and write speeds of up to 480MB/sec (IOMeter, Queue Depth 32). Random 4K read and write IOPS check in at 78,000 and 85,000, respectively.

All models are compatible with Intel’s SSD Toolbox, SSD Optimizer, Intel Data Migration Software and Intel Rapid Storage Technology.

As value drives, you can expect a fair price when it comes time to check out. Right now on Newegg, the 120GB M.2 drive is selling for $53.87 with the 2.5-inch variant commanding just $54.45. If you need more storage, the 480GB M.2 drive will currently set you back $158.65 (or $149 for the 2.5-incher). At the top end is the 1TB drive, yours for $303.48 on the M.2 form factor or $303.43 for the 2.5-inch model.

If you haven’t yet moved to a solid state drive for your primary drive (it’s hard to imagine any enthusiast hasn’t at this point), you’re really missing out. In addition to blazing fast performance versus a traditional spinning hard drive, SSDs generate zero noise and produce less heat which in turn, typically means they are more energy efficient. What’s more, they’re less prone to failure (at least, in theory) and more durable as they have no moving parts.

Bit by bit, Intel looks to quadruple SSD storage

With all the photos, videos, apps and tunes you have, the storage on your smartphone may not be enough. With that in mind, Intel is researching new ways to up the storage capacity in mobile devices and PCs without hurting the size or price of devices.

One effort underway at is to stuff more bits in a single cell, which could increase data storage capacity in mobile devices and PCs by as much as fourfold. Intel is trying to cram four bits in a storage cell, an improvement over the three bits that can be put in a single storage cell currently.

“This could enable denser devices in a broad range of mobile and compute applications,” said Bill Leszinske, vice president of strategic planning and marketing for non-volatile memory solutions at Intel, in an email.

There is an insatiable demand for more storage. Apps and OSes are getting bigger, 4K video is going mainstream, and more information is being generated by sensors and other data sources. Thus, mobile device and PC makers are continuously trying to raise the capacity of flash drives and SSDs in devices.

By putting four bits per cell, a technique Intel calls QLC (quad-level cell), the capacity of SSDs could balloon to more than 10TB on standard 2.5-inch drives. Intel said QLC is still under research, and didn’t provide a timeline for the release of flash chips based on the technology.

SSDs, which are built on NAND flash, are faster and more power-efficient than hard drives, but their capacity today tops out at roughly 4TB. SanDisk plans to ship 8TB SSDs, which would match the highest-capacity hard drive from Seagate. Intel has said it could raise the capacity of SSDs to 10TB or more with the new triple-level cell (TLC) flash chips it announced with Micron last week.

Adding more capacity to SSDs is an ongoing challenge as the geometry of chips gets smaller, and Intel’s technique is one way to expand the life of flash storage, which will likely run its course by 2023, said Jim Handy, an analyst at Objective Analysis.

Flash storage will likely be replaced within the next decade by emerging technologies such as MRAM (magneto-resistive RAM), PCM (phase-change memory) and RRAM (resistive RAM), which are just entering the market, Handy said.

Intel’s ability to put four bits in a cell is tied to the company’s ability to scale down the size of flash chips via its latest 3D NAND manufacturing technology. The technology allows layers of storage cells to be placed vertically, much like a skyscraper, allowing for more capacity.

Most SSDs come with one bit per storage cell, called SLC (single-level cell), or two bits per cell, also called multilevel cell. Putting three bits in a cell is challenging enough, and Handy was skeptical about achieving four-bit storage cells, saying the technology could open the possibility for more data errors in SSDs.

Each time one more bit is added to a cell, there is more interference, which could make it harder to discern data from a cell.

“The expectation for digital data is that it’s 100 percent there or useless,” Handy said.

Moreover, this isn’t the first time a company has tried to cram four bits in a cell. M-Systems tried the same close to a decade ago, but failed. SanDisk ultimately acquired M-Systems in 2006.

Additionally, there isn’t much incentive to put four bits per cell because of cost issues. It’s possible to cut the cost of a flash chip in half by putting two bits in a cell, and by 30 percent by putting three bits in a cell. The savings could diminish to 15 percent when putting four bits per cell, according to Handy’s estimates.

But Intel’s Leszinske remained cautiously optimistic about the company’s chances with QLC, saying Intel’s 3D NAND technology has high capacitance and low interference, making quad-level cell “a real opportunity.”

via Bit by bit, Intel looks to quadruple SSD storage | PCWorld.

When to buy a flash drive, an external hard drive, or an external SSD

Mrinal Thakur asked “What should I buy, an external hard drive, an external SSD, or a pen drive?”

My quick answer: Use an external hard drive for backup. Use a flash drive or an SSD if you want to move files from one computer to another and a network isn’t practical.

The long answer: It all depends on how much storage you need, how much you worry about physical damage, and how much you’re willing to spend. Flash-based storage such as external SSDs or flash drives (also known as pen drives or thumb drives) tend to be more robust: Drop one to the ground, and it’s still likely to work. But hard drives provide more storage for the dollar.

There’s really not much difference between flash drives and external SSDs. They both store your files in solid-state flash RAM and plug into your computer via USB. The only real difference is the form factor.

SSDs are shaped like hard drives, because they’re meant to replace internal hard drives—and therefore have to fit easily into a computer’s bay. But when used externally, there’s no real need for that shape or size.

On average, external SSDs are faster than flash drives, but the reason has nothing to do with their shape. External SSDs are more likely to come with USB 3.0 connectors, which improves performance. But if you look, you won’t have much trouble finding USB 3.0 flash drives, either.

Of course, a USB 3.0 drive won’t be any faster than USB 2.0 unless your PC has a USB 3.0 port.

In other words, it doesn’t really matter which of these two you buy. Find the device that fits your budget and the pocket you plan to carry it in.

A hard drive is an entirely different beast. Because it’s mechanical, a hard drive is more likely to be damaged. It’s also more difficult and expensive to make—unless you factor in the one expensive ingredient in a flash drive or SSD: flash RAM. If you don’t need much of that, flash drives can be astonishingly cheap—less than $10 for an 8GB drive.

But if you need a lot of storage, hard drives quickly become the bargain choice. For $100, you can buy a 2TB hard drive. A flash drive or SSD with an eighth of that storage could cost you twice that much.

via When to buy a flash drive, an external hard drive, or an external SSD | PCWorld.

These self-destructing SSDs will physically destroy the NAND flash on your command – TechSpot

It’s one thing to have your personal notebook filled with family photos, music and movies come up missing. It’s a different beast entirely when that missing notebook contains business information, trade secrets or the login credentials of your employer.

In those instances, it’d be great to have a self-destructing hard drive akin to something out of a James Bond movie. As it turns out, that technology already exists and it comes from a company called SecureDrives.

The company lists four different solid state drive models that offer up a mixture of 256-bit AES CBC hardware encryption, two-factor authentication, GSM command over encryption key flipping and physical fracturing of the NAND flash storage.

There are a few different instances where the drive will trigger its self-destruct mechanism. For example, trying to physically open the drive (it’s sealed during the production process) will initiate physical fracturing.

What’s more, user’s can configure the drive to destruct if removed from your system’s SATAII connector, self-destruct when the internal battery runs completely empty (some may think a dead battery would disable security features) and even remotely kill the drive via SMS sent from any phone.

I suspect these drives won’t be cheap but if data security is your top priority, they certainly seem capable of the job. Just don’t accidentally trigger the self-destruct mode as there’s absolutely no way to recover your data once the deed has been done.

via These self-destructing SSDs will physically destroy the NAND flash on your command – TechSpot.

Plextor M6e PCIe solid state drive available in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities starting April 7

Plextor on Thursday announced the worldwide availability of the M6e PCI Express solid state drive. Billed as the first SSD specifically designed for professional gamers, Plextor claims power users can experience speeds up to 50 percent faster than traditional SATA-based SSDs.

Offered in capacities of 128GB, 256GB and 512GB with a five-year warranty, the M6e PCIe SSD combines the latest generation Marvell 88SS9183 dual-core server-grade controller and synchronous Toshiba Toggle NAND flash with firmware developed and tested by Plextor’s in-house team.

By taking advantage of the PCI Express 2.0 x2 interface, the card is able to circumvent the 6GB/sec bottleneck associated with SATA 3.0 and the fact that it is automatically recognized as an AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) device means there are no additional drivers required for installation and use. It supports both legacy BIOS as well as UEFI for added compatibility.

Plextor tells us the 512GB M6e is capable of maximum sequential speeds of 770 MB/sec read and 625 MB/sec write with random read / write speeds of 105K IOPS and 100K IOPS, respectively. Smaller capacity drives offer slower sequential write and random read / write speeds, common among most all SSDs.

MTBF (mean time between failure) is listed at 2.4 million hours but of course, individual mileage will likely vary based on how hard you use the drive, etc.

It’s not the fastest PCIe SSD we’ve seen hit the market but regardless, it offers yet another option for consumers to contemplate. Cards will be available exclusively at Newegg starting April 7 with pricing starting at $179.99 for the 128GB offering and topping out around $550 for the 512GB card.

via Plextor M6e PCIe solid state drive available in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities starting April 7 – TechSpot.

Understanding the PCIe interface and how it benefits solid state storage

Ever since solid state storage was put on the map, we’ve seen tremendous strides in storage performance across consumer and enterprise computing uses with the promise of even more to come. With the introduction of flash controllers with support for the PCIe (PCI Express) interface and isolated uses of the technology on products like Apple’s latest MacBook Pros, the door has opened to questions about PCIe’s adoption and the benefits it poses to solid state storage. Below is a Q&A with Jeremy Werner, Senior Director of Product and Customer Management at LSI’s SandForce division.

Q: Most client-based SSDs have used SATA in the past, while PCIe was mainly used for enterprise applications. Why is the PCIe interface becoming so popular for the client market?

Jeremy: Over the past few decades, the performance of host interfaces for client devices has steadily climbed. Parallel ATA (PATA) interface speed grew from 33MB/s to 100MB/s, while the performance of the Serial ATA (SATA) connection rose from 1.5Gb/s to 6Gb/s. Today, some solid state drives (SSDs) use the PCIe Gen2 x4 (second-generation speeds with four data communication lanes) interface, supporting up to 20Gb/s (in each direction). Because the PCIe interface can simultaneously read and write (full duplex) and SATA can only read or write at one time (half-duplex), PCIe can potentially double the 20Gb/s speeds in a mixed (read and write) workload, making it nearly seven times faster than SATA.

Will the PCIe interface replace SATA for SSDs?

Jeremy: Eventually the replacement is likely, but it will probably take many years in the single-drive client PC market given two hindrances. First, some single-drive client platforms must use a common HDD and SSD connection to give users the choice between the two devices. And because the 6Gb/s SATA interface delivers much higher speeds than than hard disk drives, there is no immediate need for HDDs to move to the faster PCIe connection, leaving SATA as the sole interface for the client market. And, secondly, the older personal computers already in consumers’ homes that need an SSD upgrade support only SATA storage devices, so there’s no opportunity for PCIe in that upgrade market.

By contrast, the enterprise storage market, and even some higher-end client systems, will migrate quickly to PCIe since they will see significant speed increases and can more easily integrate PCIe SSD solutions available now.

It is noteworthy that some standards, like M.2 and SATA Express, have defined a single connector that supports SATA or PCIe devices. The recently announced LSI SF3700 is one example of an SSD controller that supports both of those interfaces on an M.2 board.

What is meant by the terms “x1, x2, x4, x16” when referencing a particular PCIe interface?

Jeremy: These numbers are the PCIe lane counts in the connection. Either the host (computer) or the device (SSD) could limit the number of lanes used. The theoretical maximum speed of the connection (not including protocol overhead) is the number of lanes multiplied by the speed of each lane.

What is protocol overhead?

Jeremy: PCIe, like many bus interfaces, uses a transfer encoding scheme – a set number of data bits represented by a slightly larger number of bits called a symbol. The additional bits in the symbol constitute the inefficient overhead of metadata required to manage the transmitted user data. PCIe Gen3 features a more efficient data transfer encoding with 128b/132b (3% overhead) instead of the 8b/10b (20% overhead) of PCIe Gen2, increasing data transfer speeds by up to 21%.

What is defined in the PCIe 2.0 and 3.0 specifications, and do end users really care?

Jeremy: Although each PCIe Gen3 lane is faster than PCIe Gen2 (8Gb/s vs 5Gb/s, respectively), lanes can be combined to boost performance in both versions. The changes most relevant to consumers pertain to higher speeds. For example, today consumer SSDs top out at 150K random read IOPS at 4KB data transfer sizes. That translates to about 600MB/s, which is insufficient to saturate a PCIe Gen2 x2 link, so consumers would see little benefit from a PCIe Gen3 solution over PCIe Gen2. The maximum performance of PCIe Gen2 x4 and PCIe Gen3 x2 devices is almost identical because of the different transfer encoding schemes mentioned previously.

Full Story: Understanding the PCIe interface and how it benefits solid state storage – TechSpot.

Samsung’s 840 EVO family goes mSATA, retains speed and capacity

Samsung is bringing its much praised 840 EVO family of SSDs down to ultra thin territory with a handful of new models in the mSATA form factor. At 1.5 inches thick that’s a full inch thinner than a standard 2.5-inch laptop drive, yet the company was able to retain the lineup’s 120GB, 250GB, 500GB and 1TB capacities — an industry first — as well as the same up to 540MB/s and 520MB/s sequential write and read times.

Other performance claims include up to 98,000 random read IOPS and 90,000 random write IOPS. In addition, the new mSATA SSDs come bundled with the latest version of Samsung’s Magician software, which further boosts performance to up to 1GB/s reads on RAPID ( Real-time Accelerated Processing of I/O Data) mode.

The 840 EVO mSATA SSD uses Samsung’s newest 128Gb NAND flash memory which is based on a “10nm class process technology” (marketing speak for 19nm). In order to achieve the impressive 1 terabyte milestone Samsung had to cram a total of four 256GB flash memory packages, each containing 16 layers of 128Gb chips.

The new drives support 256-bit AES encryption and are fully TCG Opal and IEEE 1667 compliant. Samsung says the 840 EVO mSATA SSD lineup will be available this month globally, although details such as an exact launch date, along with pricing and warranty on these units are still to be disclosed.

via Samsung’s 840 EVO family goes mSATA, retains speed and capacity – TechSpot.

Intel’s upcoming high-capacity SSDs reportedly run hot, require a heatsink

Intel is readying two new lines of high-capacity solid state drives – Fultondale and Pleasantdale – for release sometime in late 2014. However during internal testing of the SSDs, Intel has discovered a few issues that require some changes to the typical SSD design.

VR-Zone reports that the new drives run hotter than typical current-gen SSDs, so Intel has had to incorporate a small, ribbed heatsink on the bottom to facilitate better heat dissipation. Fultondale and Pleasantdale will still be packaged in 2.5-inch cases, but going on leaked images, they look thicker than a typical 2.5-inch solid state.

It\’s expected these new drives will come in capacities as large as 800 and 1,600 GB, with two boards inside. One of the boards will contain NAND and the memory controller, and the other just NAND. Under maximum workload, the drives will draw 25W of power, which is likely the reason a heatsink is necessary.

Not much else is known about these drives, but it appears they\’re being designed for data centers rather than consumer devices and desktops. Expect more information and a full unveiling at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, scheduled for Q4 2014.

via Intel’s upcoming high-capacity SSDs reportedly run hot, require a heatsink – TechSpot.